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Poster: Sugaree83 Date: Jan 30, 2007 8:36pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Wharf Rat

the narrator, who has nothing and is all alone, runs into August West.

August is delusional after years of false imprisonment and alcoholism; he thinks his love is still coming back.

the narrator hears: "Pearly's been true to me, true to my dying day", and thinks to himself - yeah, that's it, she's coming back to August.

he then wanders away, let's his mind drift off into a delusional state, thinking his lost love will come back as well. if you hear Jerry sing the last version, it's like the narrator has new life; August West is getting his girl back, and so am I !

the truth is, however, that both lives are lost, and nobody is coming back.


the narrator decides that if this guy, blind and dirty, still has hope, he should as well. he then goes and reunites with Bonnie Lee. the problem with this supposition, however, is that the narrator got up and wandered with nowhere to go after his conversation with August. was it too late?

This post was modified by Sugaree83 on 2007-01-31 04:36:00

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Poster: wack-fall Date: Jan 30, 2007 8:50pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Wharf Rat

"Wharf Rat"
Words by Robert Hunter; Music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Wharf rat down [sung as Old man down]
way down
down, down by the docks of the city,
Blind and dirty
asked me for a dime--
dime for a cup of coffee
I got no dime but
I got time to hear his story:

My name is August West
and I love my Pearly Baker best
more than my wine
...more than My wine
more than my maker
though he's no friend of mine

Everyone said
I'd come to no good
I knew I would
Pearly believed them

Half of my life
I spent doin' time for
some other fucker's crime
Other half found me stumbling around
drunk on burgundy wine

But I'll get back
on my feet someday
The good Lord willing
if He says I may
'cause I know the life I'm
livin's no good
I'll get a new start
live the life I should

I'll get up and fly away
I'll get up and
fly away... away

Pearly's been true
true to me, true to my dying day he said
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been true to you

I got up and wandered
Wandered downtown
nowhere to go
just to hang around
I got a girl
named Bonny Lee
I know that girl's been true to me
I know she's been
I'm sure she's been
true to me

Ive been reading everyones posts, and its great to hear every ones various points of view. That being said, I think the most beautiful aspect of Robert Hunters writing is that he does leave a lot of room for interpretation.He is a true poet. He doesnt spell anything out in concrete terms. Its not rigid, rather its a fluid expression of thought and emotion. He seeks to capture the "essence" of an experience. The specific meaning assigned to that experience will be different to each person who hears it.

In this way, the vast majority of the Deads songs, take on very personal meanings to each person who listens. The songs become "ours" because we can relate to it in our own way. This would not be possible if he did not leave some abiguity, some mystery, to the lyrics.

I suppose Wharf Rat, by comparison to many other Dead songs, leaves relativley less room for interpretation. (Think about a song like, "chinacat sunflower"...what exactly was he saying there?) Wharf rat is a fairly straight forward narrative. That being said, the narrative can be interpreted any number of ways, (which this thread has shown)depending on what personal emotions, and thoughts you bring when listening to it. Some hear it as a song of redemption, others hear the words of a man in denial. Unable to face the reality that his life has passed him by while he was, "drunk on burgandy wine"...

My personal interpretation is to hear this as a song of sadness and hope. and the space between(if that makes any sense)

More specificly I see a lot of parralels between the narrator and August West. I get the sense that the narrators life, has been very simmilar to Augusts. This is implied. It should be noted that the narrator also lacks a dime. The narrator is also broke. Hes wandering the streets when he encounters this man, and unable to give him a dime, he offers to hear his story. His offer to hear his story to me suggests not sympathy, but other words the narrator knows what August has been through because he himself has experienced simmilar events.

The business about, "doing time for some other fuckers crime" to me suggests a bit of denial. A common trait among alchaholics. You could even read it a little deeper and read it as, him having a bit of a split personality, A sober self, and a drunk self. A dr. Jekel and Mr Hyde scenario. Maybe the crime was commited when he was drunk. Maybe his drunk self, in fact feels like another person, "another fucker"...Which to many drunks is a common excuse for negative behavior, ie.."you cant blame me, I was drunk when I... etc". Just a thought. I mean he literally defines his life in two half he is in jail...the other half hes stumbling around drunk. Its not hard to imagine a man who spends his life drunk, eventually finding his way back to jail, and denying responsibility once he gets there.

He is ultimately hopefull though. He recognizes his faults, and perhaps this is his, "moment of clarity" maybe he is indeed going to fly away....change his ways and "the good lord willing" he will "get a new start" . But Maybe its just wishfull thinking. Maybe he has spent his life saying, "someday Im gonna get better" but never really takes the steps to break the cycle.

The song ends with the narrator making his specific link to August. He is also a drunk, wandering the streets with nowhere to go, (hes not on his way to the office). He also has a girl..bonnie may...and he too thinks she has been true...and so he wanders, and wonders off into the distance...its like a continuing cycle. The song ends in the narrators thoughts, much the same way it began in Augusts words...Its not hard to imagine the narrator asking for a dime shortly thereafter from some other third individual, on and on and on...

just my I said, its a matter of personal interpretation...this is mine...not a matter of being "right" or "wrong"...its what I hear. Beautiful stuff.

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Poster: Sugaree83 Date: Jan 31, 2007 6:49am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Wharf Rat

what does the narrator do after he wanders downtown -

1) goes home to his girl (wife), Bonny, who he now appreciates more after hearing August's story.

2) goes to find Bonny, who he long ago gave up hope on reuniting with.

3) goes back to the shelter to spend the night, then comes back the next day to go over illusions of grandeur with August.

important point here - does the narrator not even have a dime, or is he the typical human, and JUST SAYS he doesn't have a dime (or only has bills, and he's not giving those to a homeless guy) ??? that's a very important distinction. if he doesn't even have a dime, the correct answer is probably 3. if that line about having no dime means that he just doesn't want to go to the trouble of giving the guy money, then I would imagine Robert Hunter is probably writing a story about alcoholism and a lost life - and a second guy who learns in the end. (August being the constant, alcohol ruined him, and the narrator the character with new hope).

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Poster: deadmax Date: Jan 31, 2007 4:48am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Wharf Rat

I know this thread is probably dead (no pun intended) but those were some beautifully put observations. I, too, have thought of the split personalilty and the cyclical nature of the narrative, but I couldn't have put it so succinctly.

Well put my man!

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Poster: BryanE Date: Jan 31, 2007 6:39am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Wharf Rat

I've been coming to this site since last summer, and I don't recall seeing your name before this. If you are new, by all means accept this welcome in response to a terrific analysis of what I believe to be one of the best-loved songs in the entire index.

"Whack-fall the daddy-o---is that Irish?"

"I hope so."

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Poster: wack-fall Date: Jan 31, 2007 7:44pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Wharf Rat

Thank you for the kind words. Just dropped in, first post. Im a bit of a wanderer myself, (as most of us are, I would guess) In anycase, Ill drop in from time to time, I love discussing this stuff. And Its great to hear other peoples points of view, musings, ruminations, hallucinations etc :)